But he believes the lessons learned from playing against a team hoping to make it back-to-back World Cup wins in France will have made everyone better for the experience.
“It was disappointing because we were dominated physically on both sides of the ball. We’d spoken to the players about the physicality they’d bring and the fact they were playing against the world champions who’d just come out of a Rugby Championship,” said Gatland.
“We were playing against a quality, world class side who were fully loaded and who made the most of their opportunities. The only positive I can take is there is hopefully a lot of learning that some of the players will have taken from the game.
“The disappointing thing for me were the soft tries we gifted them – it didn’t help throwing a couple of intercepts. We stayed in the game in the first half for a long period and it was pretty tight.
“I thought Rio Dyer was really unlucky to have a yellow card and a penalty try against him because from the angles we’ve looked at the incident we’re 100% certain it’s touched the green player.
“For me, that’s a pretty tough call and an important moment in terms of the way the game went. Then we conceded straight from the kick-off.
“So, you go into half-time having hopefully been in the game and all of a sudden having to chase the game. When you have a defeat like this, it’s about how do you look at the positives when you are reviewing it as a group.
“I think there are some easy fixes. Probably four or five of their tries are easy enough to stop and then all of a sudden there’s a different complexion on the game.
“Contact wise we need to be a little bit better and a little bit quicker into the breakdown. When we had good line speed, we stopped some of their momentum and we need to continue to work on getting off the line to stop the physical dominance they ended up having.
“There’ll be a lot of good learnings we can take out of this to build over the next few weeks. I’m not so happy today, but I’m pretty pleased with the progression we’ve made and how hard we’ve worked.”
The game against the Springboks was Wales’ third and final game before the World Cup begins. Gatland now has three weeks to hone his squad before launching his fourth campaign in charge of Wales at the global tournament.
“I was pleased with the first couple of games in terms of the physicality we brought against England. We weren’t quite there against South Africa,” admitted Gatland.
“The breakdown needs to be a cleaner and it was a little bit disjointed from an attack perspective. We created some nice chances down the short-side, and we probably needed to look at that a little bit more.
“I thought our box kicking was effective but we didn’t have enough variation in terms of cross-field kicks and kicks in behind. They were pretty much front loaded in terms of having 14 in the line and space in behind.
“We’ll look at those things and see where we can get better in terms of putting the team under a little bit more pressure. For us we’ve got to be more accurate with ball in hand and not give away soft points.”
Gatland gathered his coaching team on Saturday night to begin the process of selecting his 33-man squad to take to France. Wales kick-off their Pool C campaign against Fiji in Bordeaux on Sunday, 10 September.
“A lot of questions have been answered. We’ll go back to the hotel, sit down and hopefully finalise it. If we need to have more discussion, we can do that tomorrow (Sunday) morning,” he added.
“We wanted to give everyone an opportunity and we wanted to find out about players. There’s no doubt we are going to pick up injuries during the World Cup as well, and every team will do that.
“Players who have had some game time, that have been a part of the squad for the last number of weeks, will hopefully then be able come in a little bit better prepared if needed. For a large number of those they would have learnt a huge amount from today’s experience.”
Sam Costelow failed his HIA when he left the pitch, but Rio Dyer, who was involved in a clash of heads with Damien Willemse, passed his test. Gatland was also able to update on some of his other injury victims
“Dan Biggar was fine today and Liam Williams could have played. Part of the thing we wanted to do was allow everyone to take part in training during the week to build confidence,” explained Gatland.
“Having trained, we decided it wasn’t worth putting them out there to risk that, given some guys had niggles. Taulupe Faletau and Gareth Anscombe are both in contention because of their experience.
“If they were young players, it would be very, very difficult to select them but given their vast amount of experience they will definitely be part of the discussions.”